Best Books of 2019 Podcast Episode

Librarians share their picks for the best books of 2019. Hear KCLS staff talk about the titles they loved the most, including adult fiction and nonfiction, teen reads, and children's books.

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A transcript of this episode is available at the end of our show notes.

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Recommended Reading

Visit our Best Books page to see all of KCLS' best books of the year. 

Contact

If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to deskset@kcls.org.

Credits

The Desk Set is brought to you by the King County Library System. The show is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, and produced by Britta Barrett. Our theme song is "I Know What I Want" by Math and Physics Club. Other music provided by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive.

Transcript

Emily Calkins:

You're listening to the Desk Set.

Britta Barrett:

A bookish podcast for reading broadly.

Emily Calkins:

We're your hosts, Emily Calkins.

Britta Barrett:

And Britta Barrett.

Emily Calkins:

And on this episode we're talking about the best books of 2019.

Britta Barrett:

So a few things that will be included in this episode are all of our very important thoughts about fiction and nonfiction.

Emily Calkins:

We'll talk to a children's librarian and a teen librarian from our branches and they can give us some insights on the teens and children's list.

Britta Barrett:

And then we'll chat with a variety of staff at KCLS who are pitching their favorite books.

Emily Calkins:

And you can see the complete list at kcls.org/bestbooks.

Britta Barrett:

Alright, we're here with the best books of the year.

Emily Calkins:

Yay, I love best books, it's one of my favorite projects of every year.

Britta Barrett:

And how does this list happen?

Emily Calkins:

So what happens is in late September, we start compiling nominations. So I take nominations from librarians, from our selectors who do all of the purchasing for the system, so they're super knowledgeable about what's come out over the course of the year. You and I nominate titles and then a couple of other folks whose brains are really in new book mode for the whole year. I put all of those into a big list, and I create a giant SurveyMonkey that I send out to all staff, so all of our staff members at KCLS have the opportunity to vote on the best books of the year.

Emily Calkins:

We have them in four categories, fiction, nonfiction, teen's and children's, and then I take the top 25 titles from each category, and that's our best books list, for the most part. I will say, I am always looking for diversity on the list in lots of ways, so I really want to be sensitive to how many - do we have some fantasy? Do we have some romance? Do we have some literary fiction? We want to have balance, and so sometimes there's a little bit of shifting that happens around that, but for the most part it's really, like, these are the 25 books that our staff love most in these categories.

Britta Barrett:

And which ones did you personally love the most?

Emily Calkins:

Oh gosh, okay. Yeah, so I just finished Daisy Jones & The Six on audio. It is a story about sort of a '70s era it girl who ends up joining this rock n’ roll band, and it's very Fleetwood Mac-y, that's kind of the vibe around the whole thing. It's presented as an oral history, so as if someone is going back and interviewing these people, 30 years later about what really happened, and how this amazing album got made, and then how everything kind of fell apart, and it's just so fun to listen to. The author is Taylor Jenkins Reid, and she does a really great job of playing with that format. So there's lots of funny moments where someone recounts an event, and then someone else immediately contradicts them, and they go, Okay, I see what was going on here. So it's like, you had very different experiences.

Emily Calkins:

So it's just really funny, and it's amazing on audio, it's got Benjamin Bratt and Judy Greer, really an all-star cast, and also that format just lends itself so well to different voices. So it's a really great listen, but I think it's probably a very fun read too, engaging without being super fluffy, not that I have anything against fluff.

Britta Barrett:

Yeah, because speaking of fun and fluff, I feel like you've also talked my ear off this year about how much you just love, love, loved Red, White and Royal Blue.

Emily Calkins:

Yes. So there are several romantic comedies or romances on the list this year, and I don't know if Red, White and Royal Blue is my absolute favorite, but it's near the top, this is a funny, sexy, joyful book about a young man who's the son of the first female president in the United States, so already in it for that. And his relationship with the prince of England. So I have a bit of a Royals thing, so it really is checking all my boxes already, then it checks my favorite romance box of all time which is fake relationship. So these two guys are at a wedding, they get into a tiff, they have this long-standing, I don't want to say they're enemies, but they don't really like each other. They get into a tiff, they knock over the wedding cake, so then they have to fake a friendship to sort of brush this under the rug, right? Like oh, it's fine, they were just messing around, blah, blah, blah.

Emily Calkins:

And so they start texting and emailing and then it turns into this really wonderful romance, it is just so joyful, it also has this really fun, sort of queer history thread through it, the prince is a great letter writer and he often is quoting other letters between lovers of the same sex, and so you kind of get this fun little queer history in it as well.

Emily Calkins:

Another romance that I want to mention is Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes. She hosts NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. And this one's a little bit more of like - I think the book publishing word for it is probably like women's fiction or domestic fiction, which we can unpack that another time. It's about this young woman whose husband has died in a car accident but what no one knows is that she was getting ready to leave him right before he died.

Emily Calkins:

And he was a doctor and a big deal in this little town in Maine, where they live, and so she had to perform this grief over the last year, but she really is grappling with much more complicated feelings. She has this big empty house and through a connection with a friend, she ends up having a baseball player move into the apartment upstairs. So he's a professional baseball player who's got what's called the yips, do you know what the yips are?

Britta Barrett:

I do. Sort of like stage fright, but maybe for sports.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah totally, stage fright for sport is exactly right, there's nothing wrong with him, but he just can't pitch anymore, and he was a very great pitcher. And so to escape the spotlight, I think he's maybe been playing for the Yankees and he's trying to get out of New York, he moves to this little town in Maine and they strike up a friendship that's really, really wonderful. And it's just such a lovely book, it’s warm-hearted, not just this relationship between the two of them, but all of these other friendships, Evvie has this sort of crotchety dad, who's really great, she's got a lifelong friendship with a guy in town that's really wonderful. Just these really great relationships, an excellent dialogue which is something I'm really a sucker for. So that's Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Britta Barrett:

Did they both learn to love and pitch again?

Emily Calkins:

They do learn to love, I don't want to spoil the pitching part of it.

Britta Barrett:

Pins and needles.

Emily Calkins:

You should read it. I know you won't, it's okay, I know you don't like fiction.

Britta Barrett:

Hey, I read a fiction book this year.

Emily Calkins:

Did you read any of the books on the list?

Britta Barrett:

That's a good question. I definitely started quite a few of them.

Emily Calkins:

I feel like Sally Rooney's Normal People - she's sort of hailed as the “millennial novelist.”

Britta Barrett:

This is one I started.

Emily Calkins:

Oh, really?

Britta Barrett:

And I just didn't feel the same way everybody else did.

Emily Calkins:

It didn't work for you?

Britta Barrett:

Maybe I didn't get far enough.

Emily Calkins:

So for people who haven't read this one, it's sort of a love story, it's about these two kids in Ireland, they start a relationship in high school, she's kind of a smart outcast, he's kind of the jockey popular kid, but he's also really smart and they end up having a lot in common in some ways. And it follows them over the course of the beginning of that relationship and then through college. And this is another one where I just think that dialogue is so accurate, and she writes these scenes and you just think, Oh, God, you cringe a little inside, because they feel so real, and the characters feel so real.

Emily Calkins:

For me, I'm finding more and more that characters in relationships are what really drives my interest in the novel, and these two people I just found incredibly compelling and really frustrating sometimes, it's really like watching two of your friends be dumb about the fact that they're in love with each other. So if that sounds good to you.

Britta Barrett:

I mean, I love cringy recognition, that's why I'm a nonfiction reader, I'm like it's so real. I’ll have to give it another shot.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, I mean, I thought it was great. There's so many good books on this list, I'm just looking at it now and thinking like, oh, man.

Britta Barrett:

So when you've talked about before, actually, when we were talking to Angela Garbes, I think you both mentioned really loving, Lost Children Archive?

Emily Calkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I read a lot of light stuff this year for a bunch of reasons, both personal and sort of what's happening in the world. This is not one of those light things, this is a novel but only barely, she's really playing with form in ways that are really interesting in this book, and I like a big swing, and I think that Luiselli takes a huge swing with this novel. It's about a couple who are both sound editors basically, and they take their young children who are, I want to say, five and nine maybe, on a road trip from New York and they're going to the US, Mexico border, where they're going to be working on a couple of separate projects.

Emily Calkins:

So part of it is the story of that road trip and their relationship is kind of unraveling at this point, so it's about that. There's a story within a story that's ostensibly a novel about children who are traveling alone from Central America trying to get to the US riding on a train. So there's an element of immigration story that feels very timely and is really hard, these kids are facing incredible danger just trying to get - many of them trying to get to their parents or their family who are already in the States, and there's sort of this thread about the Apache, American Indians. The dad's project is related to that.

Emily Calkins:

So it's very complex, it's very knotty with a k.

Britta Barrett:

We should mention that.

Emily Calkins:

It's very complex, it's got lots of layers, the book has images in it. So the boy has a Polaroid camera, so it's like multimedia kind of. It's just a fascinating read, the way that she brings all of these different elements together. And then I was reading it at the time that the children traveling alone at the border and the detention of those children was really in the news, so it really was, it felt very timely and it sort of hit home. Really beautifully done.

Emily Calkins:

The only other one I see on here that I feel like I should just give a brief shout out to is This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. This is a really weird book in a good way. It's fantasy and or science fiction. Definitely like speculative fiction, that's about two organizations, one that's kind of the organic people things, like growing things and chaos and one that's very mechanistic and ordered. And this war over the ultimate fate of the universe, where they are sending agents up and down through time on different threads. It's very complicated and then two of these agents one from each side start communicating with each other via these elaborate letters.

Emily Calkins:

It's just really unusual in terms of the way that the storytelling happens, and the world-building is both so detailed and also sort of opaque. You never get an explanation for a lot of things, but again, it's really about the relationship between these two agents. So for me, these letters that start out as one thing and very quickly evolved into something totally different was just really great. That one is also very short, so if you're looking for something quick to up your end of year reading total, This Is How You Lose The Time War is a great pick.

Britta Barrett:

Awesome, should we move on to nonfiction?

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, let's talk nonfiction. I feel like this is your domain, do you have favorites?

Britta Barrett:

I'll talk about them, but I feel like you also love a lot of stuff on this list, like, Save Me The Plums?

Emily Calkins:

I do, I love Save Me The Plums. This is Ruth Reichl's most most recent memoir. So she is a very well known food writer, she was the restaurant critic for the New York times and she's got a bunch of memoirs about her career in food. And this one is about her time at Gourmet Magazine, which was sort of the last decade that Gourmet was around. And it begins when Conde Nast, which is the company that owned Gourmet was at the top of the world, and had so much money, like early on in her career there, they literally sent the entire staff of the magazine to Paris. I know, can you imagine?

Emily Calkins:

And it was also as the internet was coming up, so part of it is seeing her try to figure out how to bring Gourmet into the internet age and why that in the end didn't work and the magazine folded. So there's lots of great food writing, and it has a fun sort of gossipy media insider-y tone, that I just really enjoyed, just very fun and engaging. The other one on the list that I really love is Good Talk. This is maybe my favorite book of the year.

Britta Barrett:

Wow.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, I mean, ask me tomorrow and I'll say something different, but it's... Did you read this one?

Britta Barrett:

I did.

Emily Calkins:

I love that she takes these really heavy topics, right? Like this is a book about race, it's about how you talk to your kid, your non-white kid, about the fact that the color of their skin impacts the way that people interact with them in the world. And her son is about six over the course of this memoir, and he's asking really hard questions, like do people hate me because I'm Brown?

Emily Calkins:

And what you do with a family that doesn't... So she's in a marriage where she's Indian American, and her husband is white, he's Jewish, and her in-laws don't necessarily see the complications of race that she does. So it's really heavy, and yet, it's so funny, and honest, and again, I guess dialogue is a theme for me here because she just captures the way that kids get interested and sort of fixated on something in a really funny way, the opening sequence is her son being obsessed with Michael Jackson, and asking, really, the kind of questions that kids ask about Michael Jackson, the adults don't ask, is he black or white? Or did he used to be black and then he became white?

Britta Barrett:

According to the song, it doesn't matter. My number one pick of the year, not even a competition at all, is a Jia Tolentino's, Trick Mirror, the subtitle of which is reflections on self-delusion. You might know her work from Jezabel, or The Hairpin, which is probably most famous as an essayist for The New Yorker. And what I love so much about her is that none of her takes her hot, they're very long form and thoughtful and critical, but she turns that critical eye on herself and her own sort of complicity and participation in all sorts of patriarchal, capitalistic things that this book explores.

Britta Barrett:

It's done through some really boring topics like barre class and reality TV, but she managed to say something so interesting about what it means to be alive at this particular moment, especially if you are like we are millennial women. I think she's 31, and so she's writing from this perspective that I really value of someone who remembers what it was like before and after the kind of internet we have now and how that's changed culture in ourselves and is - she's the person I would turn to, to explain TikTok to an old.

Emily Calkins:

I need her to explain TikTok to me, I think I'm an old now.

Britta Barrett:

We are all old now. And she has written it for the New Yorker, by the way, if you don't subscribe, but you'd like to read it, you can check out New Yorker articles, the whole issue on RB digital, which is my favorite way to access that.

Emily Calkins:

Yes, you can get the app for your phone and login with your library card, and there's the New Yorker and Bon Appetit, and surely if Gourmet still existed it would be in there too.

Britta Barrett:

So much great stuff, but this collection tackles, like I said, everything from kind of like, lighter topics to really big issues like campus-wide rape epidemics at her alma mater, and what it was like growing up in a megachurch in Texas, and her identity as I believe she was born in Canada to parents who are Filipino immigrants, and has lived in the states for most of her life, but that's also kind of a part of the identity that she's reflecting on. And I just think she's the smartest writer of our era.

Emily Calkins:

There's lots of those sort of part biography or part memoir, part essay collection kind of things on this list. Did you read Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom?

Britta Barrett:

It's absolutely at the top of my to-read list, because it tackles the subjects that I care very much about, which is sort of like being a human in a body, and particularly a larger body, what that means for a person and this particular person is also a person of color and then there's another layer of complication.

Emily Calkins:

There's also Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, which is a memoir that is also about therapy, so it kind of combines again that cultural reporting. It's a memoir by a therapist who's in therapy, I haven't read that one, but I think people really liked it. Lucy Knisley's, Kid Gloves, is partially a memoir of her pregnancy and childbirth experience, but also partially a history of obstetrics in this country, in particular.

Britta Barrett:

And I Love Lucy, she's written previously a lot of travel memoir, that's been really great.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, she's great, she is really funny and vulnerable and sort of like in Good Talk strikes that balance between... Especially in Nine Months, or in Kid Gloves, things that can be really heavy and also things that are seeing the lighter side of those or finding the humor.

Britta Barrett:

Are you the author of Happiness is Baking? Because I feel like you could write that one.

Emily Calkins:

I am not, the author of Happiness is Baking is Maida Heatter, she is 102 years old, so-

Britta Barrett:

Oh my gosh.

Emily Calkins:

... I hope I'm still baking when I'm 102.

Britta Barrett:

Does she have some folksy wisdom about living off of chocolate and wine to continue to 100th-year life?

Emily Calkins:

I hope so. I don't know. I feel like I'm going to google that and see, how can I live to be 102 and still bake?

Britta Barrett:

Another fun one on this list that's also kind of related to or kid-adjacent is Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, which are questions from little people about death and dying. I think she's become very quickly sort of one of the biggest pop culture figures to talk about death and dying in a way that's accessible, and funny, and based in science, and very curious, and open to all those sort of different ways that humans have decided to approach, think about and celebrate death.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, I really like this one, I have not read her before, she also has a YouTube series called Ask A Mortician, but I found this just super engaging, she manages to walk this really fine line between being irreverent about the whole process which can be sort of scary, and opaque, just something that people want to avoid, she's very open about it. But she never is dismissive of people's experiences or the respect with which we should treat death and dying and bodies after death. And this has really amazing questions in it like, what happens if you die in space?

Britta Barrett:

What does happen?

Emily Calkins:

Well, I don't remember all of the details, but what I do remember is that for some country, they have to make a plan for people who actually go to space, I think it's on the space station, but I might be incorrect, it's been a while since I read this book. They put you in the airlock, they secure you, they open the airlock so that you freeze, and then they put you inside this bag and then they shake it real hard so that you break into a lot of cubes and then they zip you down so you're more compact and then you can be delivered back to your loved one as frozen space cubes.

Britta Barrett:

As frozen space cubes. That sounds pretty cool.

Emily Calkins:

Right? There are worse things to have happen to your body after death.

Britta Barrett:

I'm really excited about human composting which is coming to a Seattle near you.

Emily Calkins:

True. “Will my cat eat my eyeballs?” is another question, and the answer is eventually probably, but not right away, they don't want to eat your eyeballs.

Britta Barrett:

No.

Emily Calkins:

Most cats, probably.

Britta Barrett:

But if you haven't been around to feed them for a while [crosstalk 00:22:07] be tasty.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, and your eyeballs are soft, so it's like a good starting point.

Britta Barrett:

Totally.

Emily Calkins:

“What does a dead body smell like?” is one. “Can I keep my parent’s skull?” is another one, the answer to that one is probably no. So bad news for any young skull collectors out there. But these are all questions that kids who've come to Doughty's previous events have asked her either in person or have sent her a letter or whatever, so they're really wide-ranging, and it's very funny and also really informative.

Britta Barrett:

There's a lot of nonfiction on this list that's just ripped from the headlines, I feel like Parkland which tackles gun control issues in this country and need, which is a very personal story that highlights income inequality and specifically how that impacts women and single mothers.

Emily Calkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), and On the Clock: What Low Wage Work Did To Me and How It Drives America Insane is also about that, it's by a journalist - so maybe one you should pick up -  who went and got jobs at an Amazon warehouse, a call center and a McDonald's and then wrote about the impact of that. So sort of a spiritual successor to Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed, which I think is the classic but has been around for 20 or 25 years now. So I think we're always sort of interested in those bigger issues, although I think this list this year is a little bit less sort of current event-y than it's been in years past.

Emily Calkins:

We have lots of memoirs, although we also have, She Said, which is the book by the two journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein story and sort of kickstarted the #MeToo movement. So we do have plenty of those topical picks as well.

Britta Barrett:

Although I can't help but thinking, of course, the librarians chose the history of the semicolon and Dreyer's English.

Emily Calkins:

Just a few things that make this a very librarianee, in addition to the history of the semicolon and Dreyer’s English, which is essentially a style guide, we also have Sorry, I'm Late, I Didn't Want To Come: One Introverts Year Of Saying Yes, which just seems like so one the nose, and also real. Also very real for many of our staff, myself included.

Britta Barrett:

So one of my favorite books about languages did not make the list, but it's called Because Internet. Because I'm on the internet all the time, And I'm super interested in the ways that we've discovered to sort of communicate tone, using just language when we can't hear and see each other. What I love about the book is that it's got this warmth and generosity and curiosity about this changes without a lot of prescription and hand wringing about what it means for the English language. That's something that you don't always see in books about language, grammar, etc.

Emily Calkins:

Totally. Do you have any other favorites that didn't make the list that you wish had?

Britta Barrett:

Well, just because it came in right sort of at the end of the year, Carmen Maria Machado's In The Dream House is a memoir that's genre-defying, and it explores surviving an abusive, same-sex relationship. And I think Carmen is just a miraculous writer, if you've read her previous collection of her stories, Her Body And Other Parties, you know what you're getting into, and seeing that applied to her real life through this still kind of magical realist lens was super fascinating.

Emily Calkins:

I have one more that I wish had made the list and I think is also just sort of a latecomer, which is Kevin Wilson's Nothing To See Here.

Britta Barrett:

Which is fiction.

Emily Calkins:

It's fiction, oh, I'm sorry, did you want to keep talking about nonfiction?

Britta Barrett:

I think we should mention that exploding children probably don't exist.

Emily Calkins:

This story about two children who spontaneously combust and are fine is not real, it is a novel, but it's really funny and again warm, that's what I really wanted this year but without being saccharine.

Britta Barrett:

So now you've heard all of our thoughts. Maybe we can get some more book suggestions from other librarians.

Emily Calkins:

I think that's a great idea.

Zach:

Well, I'm Zach and I help select adult books here at KCLS, and I really enjoyed Deep River by Karl Marlantes. So it's a sprawling family epic set here in the Pacific Northwest around 1900. So the story starts with Finnish girl and her two brothers are forced to leave their country and they try to rebuild their lives in the wilds of southwest Washington. The book is over 800 pages long, but one thing I liked was how quickly the story moves from one scene to the next. There are a lot of memorable characters and their fortunes change in the logging camps and coastal towns and Saturday night dances. I love the descriptions of Finnish culture and life in the northwest at the turn of the century. Just the details of logging, climbing and chopping down and moving 300-foot tall trees was fascinating to me. Trying to improve working conditions to the labor movement, the strikes can be just as dangerous. Readers who enjoyed Ken Kesey's Sometimes A Great Notion, and Richard Powers’ The Overstory will like this one too. So, that's Deep River by Karl Marlantes.

Jennifer Fleck:

Hello, I'm Jennifer and I buy adult books and films for the library, and the book I want to share with you today is Things You Save In A Fire by Katherine Center. It's about Cassie, and Cassie is a firefighter who's earned the respect of her fellow firefighters, and she really enjoys the camaraderie that she shares in the firehouse with her fellow co-workers, but then in this sort of one-two punch in the story, Cassie's place at the firehouse is completely upended. She gets in trouble with her chief for her reaction to a local politician, and her mother, from whom she's been estranged, needs her help with her failing health. Both situations mean that Cassie must leave everything she's worked for and start over in a Boston firehouse that is less than thrilled to be the recipient of a lady firefighter. So for readers who like romance there's this slow boil storyline that simmers on the back burner. But for me what was really interesting about Things You Save In A Fire is Cassie, and how she handles the situations that life throws at her even though sometimes the answer is completely catastrophically. Cassie faces questions about worthiness, forgiveness, resilience and purpose. How do you pick yourself up and keep plugging away when you've really messed up, or when someone else has? Who is forgiveness actually for? And what does it cost to forgive and what does it cost to hold on? I'd recommend Things You Save In A Fire for readers who like stories about an underdog set on proving herself, or for readers who enjoy stories about how people struggle through their very messy lives.

Bruce Greeley:

Hi, I'm Bruce Greeley, I'm in charge of the bookmobile that serve seniors throughout King County, and I'm here to talk to you about Recursion by Blake Crouch. This book starts with this New York City detective trying to talk down a woman who's perched on a ledge on a skyscraper in New York City, and he's trying to keep her from jumping to her death, the reason is because she's suffering from this phenomenon known as FMS, it's called false memory syndrome. That's where these people suddenly they have this whole set of memories that they didn't even know about.

So as a parallel story with this other neurophysicist, her mother is in the late stages of Alzheimer's, and she's working on helping capture your memories, and even being able to revisit them again. So these two stories, can you imagine how they're going to intersect? Crouch is great at making these plots merge. And it gets wilder and wilder and you won't believe what happens, but you won't be able to put the book down. This book explores the nature of time and reaches some mind-blowing conclusions in the process. You ever had any regrets or you ever thought about going back in time and changing something in your past? All I can say is be careful what you wish for.

Destinee Sutton:

Hi, I'm Destinee and I'm a children's librarian. I am going to talk about a book called Exhalation by Ted Chiang. So Exhalation is a collection of nine short stories by the award-winning science fiction author Ted Chiang. And it is I think I would describe it as thought-provoking, first of all, and also very beautifully written, very precisely written. Ted Chiang is a technical writer, that's his day job, and you can tell when you read his fiction, that he's very precise in his words. So to give you a sense of this collection, I thought I'd tell you about just one of the stories. And I pick the one that has stuck with me the most, I mean, they're all excellent, but there's this one that I think about all the time, and it's called The Truth Of Fact, The Truth Of Feeling. So this is a story that takes place in both the past and the future, the story in the past is about a boy from a community without written language, and he needs a missionary who introduces the written word to him for the first time. And in the future, there's this story about a new technology that's called a Life Log, where it's keeping track of everything that happens to you, every day, every second through video. So if you ever want to think back to something that happened in the past, you don't have to use your imperfect memory, you can use your Life Log, and it will show you exactly what really happened. So after I read these stories, I was asking everyone I know, would you want a Life Log? Can you imagine what the world would be like without writing? Both of these questions have really stuck with me, and I've had super interesting conversations with people who haven't even read the story, just because I was so enthusiastic about it. So if you like engaging stories with complex philosophical questions, or if you like TV shows like Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone, I'd suggest giving Exhalation by Ted Chiang a try.

Jessica Gomes:

I'm Jessica and I serve patrons by maintaining the library's website. I have two books to share, one fiction and one nonfiction. The first book is a historical novel, The Island Of Sea Women by Lisa See. It’s about all women diving collectives on a small Korean Island. I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but I was hooked by the unique lifestyle and relationships of women who support their families with this type of work. The extreme risks these divers take made this book a total page-turner right from the beginning. The book becomes unputdownable as it follows a friendship during an unbelievably devastating time of colonialism and war.

Jessica Gomes:

The next book I'd like to talk about is The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang. The sparkling collection of essays centers the author's lived experience with schizoaffective disorder. Esme unpacks complex topics with research and thoughtful reflection, like navigating the complexities of getting a diagnosis, or not finding support in higher education, and even dealing with the harm of institutionalization. This was such a raw and intimate read and it brought on all of the feelings for me. If you enjoy reading about health experiences and mental wellness memoirs, you might also like this illuminating book.

Cass Mabbott:

I am Cass Mabbott and I am the Children's Services Coordinator for the entire system. And so what that means, is that I get to assist the fabulous children's librarians all over the county with various needs.

Emily Calkins:

All right. So we invited you to come on the show and talk a little bit about this year's best books list, specifically the children's list. So it's 25 titles for basically kids of all ages kind of zero to 12 to 14-ish. Does that sound about right age range?

Cass Mabbott:

Yup.

Emily Calkins:

So what themes jump out at you on this year's list?

Cass Mabbott:

Well, first off, I want to give a shout out to our incredible children's librarians and staff who picked this list, because it's very exciting. The themes that come out, the first things that I see that make me very happy is that there are many, many authors, Own Voices authors, and there's everyday diversity represented as well.

Cass Mabbott:

So Own Voices is about an author who is coming from the culture that they're writing about, so the first thing I think of is the amazing author, Lisa Bunker who is transgender and she wrote Zenobia July and Felix Yz, and she talks about transgender themes throughout her books, so she's a transgender person herself.

Cass Mabbott:

So Own Voices throughout this whole list are represented. Everyday diversity is more about having a main character who's diverse, but it's not about that diversity. So it's about representation, so I'm thinking of a little girl in a wheelchair that goes to kindergarten, it's not about her experience of why she needs a wheelchair or what it's like to be in a wheelchair, it's about her going to kindergarten and she just happens to be in a wheelchair.

Emily Calkins:

Can you tell us some of the titles on the list that fall into those categories?

Cass Mabbott:

Sure. Well, definitely Own Voices: Kwame Alexander, The Undefeated, just about everywhere I look, A Place to Belong, Cynthia Kadohata, Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee, The Roots of Rap was written by Carole Boston Weatherford, all over many Own Coices authors. Everyday diversity, you would see that in Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO, which I'll talk about a little bit later. My Papi has A Motorcycle, another everyday diversity book would be Another by Christian Robinson, it's about a cat who takes a girl on an adventure at night time, she just happens to be a person of color.

Emily Calkins:

I love that one, I've read it many times with my kiddo. It has - not only is she a person of color, but there's lots of different kinds of diversity represented in all of the kids who are in that book, it's just really wonderful. And his illustrations are so great.

Cass Mabbott:

They really are.

Emily Calkins:

Let's see, what else, other themes that you notice when you're looking at the list?

Cass Mabbott:

Yeah, a lot of focus on social-emotional characteristics, which as children you really need to work through to be able to understand your emotions and how to interact in society, but I have to say, some of these are really good for adults too. The first one I think of is When Sadness is at Your Door by Eva Eland. It's probably one of the most stunning visual representations of what sadness could look like. It really spoke to me as an adult, and I think it would really speak to kids too.

Emily Calkins:

I also love that one, and my kid loved it.

Cass Mabbott:

Yeah. How did she react to it, did she?

Emily Calkins:

She's really little, she's not always articulating things, but she definitely wanted to read it over and over again, which is always a good sign. I like the illustrations because they are - it really makes sadness so concrete, and yet very really simple, it doesn't feel like this big sort of allegorical thing. It's like, oh no sadness is like a visitor who comes to your house, and what does it mean to sort of welcome that instead of push it away? Which is a really sort of mind-blowing concept, even for adults, I think.

Cass Mabbott:

You could go to years of therapy and finally have learned that, so start ‘em out young with that one. Another one is Changing Acceptance, so Princess Puffybottom and Darryl. So a lot of these just seem like silly funny picture books, but they really have a deeper meaning. This has many different levels, but it's basically about a cat who is Princess Puffybottom.

Emily Calkins:

Sure.

Cass Mabbott:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), and she has her certain way about how she likes things and then her humans get Darryl, which is a really fun-loving puppy. And so you can imagine how that goes. It's about acceptance, finally she understands that this dog is here to stay and how can they live together? How can they work this out? And I believe this is the one too that has as far as everyday diversity, the humans, the pets have two moms I think.

Emily Calkins:

They do and there's another one, My Footprints is also about a family with two moms.

Cass Mabbott:

That's right, yes.

Emily Calkins:

So I mentioned that part of the process is that we take nominations, and a couple of titles that you nominated ended up on the list, can you tell us about them?

Cass Mabbott:

Indeed. I nominated Tallulah The Tooth Fairy CEO, by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli. This book is everything. It's fun, it has some new concepts I think, for me at least, about thinking of a tooth fairy as a brilliant businesswoman, who is the head of her own company, she just happens to be a person of color, so there's everyday diversity in it as well. Her entire board is made up of maybe-

Emily Calkins:

Her board, I love that there's a picture book, like, I’ll have to go to present to my board.

Cass Mabbott:

It's my favorite, the problem is in the book, the little boy lost his tooth, and so he wrote a letter to the tooth fairy and said, "I hope you understand." And she thought, wow, this is outside of protocol, I need to check my guidelines, and she checks them and there's nothing in there, so she goes to her board, which is eight women of color, and one white man. And the reason that matters is another part of this book that's fabulous is that there's the story going along, but then the pictures have a lot that you can really take a lot of time to look and see different details. And in that one, they're all talking about what they think about, well, I don't know the proof is in the tooth, so the boy should have a tooth and every woman has an opinion of what to do, and then the white man is off to the side and says, "I'd like to talk to you about how nondiverse this board is."

Cass Mabbott:

And then there's an ode to Black Lives Matters with the shirt that he's wearing, and so it's one of those things that you wouldn't necessarily catch as a four-year-old, I would think not, but as an adult that's going to probably give you a chuckle.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, and it's fun to have picture books that adults will enjoy too, because as parents know, you end up reading them again and again and again. So if their stuff is funny and engaging for you, it makes a nicer reading experience for everybody.

Cass Mabbott:

Yeah, it's fun. There's other things like that, where she's interviewed by Oprah, she does a TED talk-like thing, and she's interviewed by this woman, a news anchor, and you can see her notes. So you can see the questions that she's asking the tooth fairy Tallulah, but then you see her doodles and then you see her making grocery list, so it's very human, right?

Emily Calkins:

Yeah. I love that illustration, so it's this mod kind of sixties, with the big, they're really graphic and she has this amazing afro.

Cass Mabbott:

Right, and owe it to African art. It talks about her schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays she does pilates and yoga. It's fun, it's really fun. The other one that I picked out is Who Wet My Pants by Bob Shea. Mainly because I just want to say who what my pants all year.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, absolutely.

Cass Mabbott:

But Bob Shea is a fabulous and been popular for a really long time. But this book also has a different level of meaning as well, it's about, it looks like kind of a Scoutmaster of some sort going on a camping trip and he's very kindly picked out all the different types of doughnuts that his troop love. So he knows that someone likes the gross maple bacon one, someone loves... This is for Brian, this is for... And so you can tell he's kind and thoughtful and he gets up on a stump to announce that he has these fabulous donuts, and it's clear that he's wet his pants.

Cass Mabbott:

And even though he's a bear, he acts very human, so I think it would be really normal for anyone to get very defensive about being in public having wet their pants. So he starts demanding, asking who wet my pants? Because it wasn't me, and no one gets donuts until you tell me. Then rather than people, his young charges, getting upset, they all try to think of something that could have happened and try to make him feel better. So, everybody wets their pants, but he doesn't like that, so he keeps lashing out until eventually someone asks him, "Well, what did you do yesterday or today?" And all the classic things, he had helped with the lemonade stand, and he drank all the lemonade, he hiked to a waterfall, a really big waterfall, he sat next to his fish, he fell asleep and his hand is in the fish tank.

Cass Mabbott:

And it's at that time that it doesn't say it, but you can tell he's figured out Oh, whoops. Okay, that's what happened. And he says at the end that, "Even if you did wet my pants I'd forgive you and let's all have donuts." So it's just it's sweet, and it's just really funny and silly.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah. Sounds great. So we are coming up on gift-giving season, and I always think of our best books list as like a resource for parents or other adults who might want to give books for kids in their lives. Do you have any pics from the list that you think would be especially good gifts?

Cass Mabbott:

That's really tough because the list is very good, I don't think you could go wrong with any of them. That being said, The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander is wonderful, and then the illustrator is Kadir Nelson, and if you haven't seen his work before you should do it right now.

Emily Calkins:

Gorgeous.

Cass Mabbott:

Yeah. I also really love Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman, I think that reading should be fun, so have fun, just get out there and read whatever you like and encourage your kids to do the same. So Llama Destroys the World is about a llama that eat so much cake that his pants rip.

Emily Calkins:

It has happened to the best of us.

Cass Mabbott:

See, you can relate to it, and then it creates a black hole that could actually hurt the world. So, I've been there. So, that's just fun. There's also A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry, I'm just going to name everything on this list.

Emily Calkins:

Could you just read the list to us?

Cass Mabbott:

All of it's great. A Place To Belong Cynthia Kadohata. I think what's great about this list is that there's a brief description on it that the librarians have annotated, right? So it can really help you figure out if this would fit the human that you're wanting to give it to. I know for sure I'm giving Tallulah The Tooth Fairy and Who Wet My Pants to my favorite little one.

Emily Calkins:

All right. Well, thank you so much for coming to talk to us about our best books for kids.

Cass Mabbott:

Thank you.

Emily Calkins:

And as a reminder for our listeners, you can go to kcls.org/bestbooks, and that has all of our list for the year and like Cass said they all of list have little annotations so if you're not sure what the right age range, the kids annotations do say sort of a rough estimate that we think is the right fit, so be sure and check that out.

Whitney Winn:

My name is Whitney Winn I'm a team librarian at KCLS, I primarily work in the Auburn area at the Algona Pacific library and the Muckleshoot libraries. I have been a teen librarian for about six years, and I read a lot of young adult literature.

Britta Barrett:

I don't really think of myself as like a YA person, but looking at this list there's so many good graphic novels on here, and I am a comics person.

Whitney Winn:

Yes, I feel like that's the best part about the teen list, is because it gets to sort of absorb all of the good graphic novels from the year.

Britta Barrett:

So can you tell us about some of your favorites that are on there?

Whitney Winn:

Yes. So probably some of my favorite books of the year are teen graphic novels on this list. I think my number one is, This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews, and this is a fantastical story about a kid who him and his friends are chasing these lanterns that their town lets out every year that travel down the river and they've decided this year they're going to follow them as far as they can, but one by one, all the boys start to turn back and so just two boys are left and they go on this fantastical adventure where they meet a giant bear, a witch and all these other creatures and it reminds me a lot of Miyazaki movies, so there are kids and strange creatures, but it's all presented as if it's just totally normal. And it's just a comforting beautiful read.

Britta Barrett:

One of my favorites was Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me.

Whitney Winn:

Yes that is probably my number two graphic novel pick on this list for sure.

Britta Barrett:

And folks might know Mariko Tamaki from previous work like This One Summer.

Whitney Winn:

Yes, another great graphic novel. Yeah, so Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With me is a lesbian love story, I would say is the main selling point, but it's really just about a bunch of older teenagers living life, going through breakups and romances, and it's just the art is amazing, I'm in love with it, and just a lovely, cute story.

Whitney Winn:

Another good graphic novel similar themes is Bloom by Kevin Panetta, which is another love story. This is between two boys and involves baking in a seaside town and that's another one that's just lovely and just makes you want to eat food and hang out at the beach, which, what more do you want?

Britta Barrett:

It gave me all the feels and I feel like the last two books we were talking about even have kind of a similar color palette.

Whitney Winn:

Yeah, this one was a little on the blue end, and another I would say Laura Dean is definitely a more pink, mint green kind of feel, but yeah, very muted colors and very nice. And good for teens and adult readers as well.

Emily Calkins:

So graphic novels is one big theme. What other themes do you see on the list?

Whitney Winn:

When I was looking through the list again, I noticed there is a lot of sort of historical elements on there, so there are a couple nonfiction titles one that I hadn't read, but I'm excited to read is the Elizabeth Wein’s story about female pilots in World War Two, Soviet female pilots. She writes a lot of amazing work about female pilots from that era of history, so that's one that's great for nonfiction readers.

Whitney Winn:

And then my number one favorite book on the whole list is 13 Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All, which is another historical story and this one is fiction. And this is told to the point of view of a ghost. So a young woman who was killed in I think 1918 during the influenza epidemic and she is observing another girl, Frankie, who lives in an orphanage in Chicago in the 1930s and 40s. And it's just amazing sort of magical realism kind of thing, about a ghost and a real girl and all the trials they go through living as women and people kind of at the margins of society during that time.

Emily Calkins:

There's another historical magical realism, Lovely War.

Whitney Winn:

Oh Lovely War, and there's also Gilded Wolves, which is a little bit more fantastical, but I think takes place in 1890s Paris, and yeah.

Emily Calkins:

That one’s kind of like a caper - I haven’t read it yet.

Whitney Winn:

I haven't read either, but I was like, Oh, I didn't know it was a heist novel which I think sounds really fun, especially when it's a historical fantasy heist novel. But have you read the Lovely War?

Emily Calkins:

No, but I've read previous Julie Barry and I really love her.

Whitney Winn:

Yeah, so that one is told through the point of view of Greek gods, I believe. It's Aphrodite narrating A Love Story during World War One. Does that sound right?

Emily Calkins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Whitney Winn:

And some people I know who've read it said it's fantastic.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, she's a wonderful, they're really sophisticated, so I think teen readers enjoy them, but I think adult readers would enjoy that, I mean, I certainly like them as well, her use of language and the way she builds her characters, and she does something completely different every time.

Whitney Winn:

Right? Yeah. Another historical one, and it's also a graphic novel is Queen Of The Sea by Dylan Meconis, and it's billed as historical fiction, but it's pretty closely based on sort of Queen Elizabeth's story, but it's about a girl who is out on an island in the middle of the ocean near a fictionalized version of Great Britain. And she lives in a convent and no one comes, it's just the nuns and her and then one day a young boy arrives, and there's all these mysteries about who she is, who he is, and it's very slow-paced, but very lovely, and I really enjoyed it, just kind of got absorbed in this world on this island.

Emily Calkins:

Do you have any favorites on the list? If people are looking to give gifts to teenagers in their lives and things that are really high appeal for lots of different kinds of teens?

Whitney Winn:

The two sort of higher appeal books are both second novels from previous award winners, So there is With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo, and this is about a teen mom who's going through her last year of high school, she's kind of trying to decide what she's going to do next, and she's also an aspiring chef. So similar to Bloom, if you really like to read about food, and people who are really passionate about food that's great, and that's just a pretty straightforward contemporary, realistic story. The great thing about Elizabeth Acevedo is the way she kind of uses voice and language to give life to her characters is amazing. So you're just going to fall in love with the main characters in it, even though it's a pretty simple story plot-wise. So I think a lot of teenagers would relate to that.

Whitney Winn:

Similar to On The Come Up, which is Angie Thomas's second book, she wrote The Hate You Give. On The Come Up is about an aspiring rapper, and so it's kind of about her trying to make her way especially as a young female artist. I think it will appeal to people who really like The Hate You Give, it's maybe not quite as violent with those really strong heavy themes, it's a little bit more just about regular teenage life, but again, it's a wonderful book and now and it's great to listen to on audio, because it does have that spoken word and rap segments in it, it comes to life a lot better on audio, I think.

Britta Barrett:

Well, I think a lot of adult readers probably recognize one of the names on this list from when we were a teenager?

Whitney Winn:

Oh yes.

Britta Barrett:

The book Shout is written by the same author who wrote Speak.

Whitney Winn:

Yes, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Shout. And this is a memoir she wrote, and it's told through poetry, so it’s in verse, and it's about her life growing up and she wrote Speak because of some sexual assault experiences she had had as a youth. So this kind of speaks to those experiences she went through, and then how she has related to teens through her novel Speak, and the kinds of stories she hears from especially young girls every time she goes out to do school visits, and so has some really powerful stories in there and sort of like messages of overcoming and living through that kind of trauma, and all of that. Again, this is a really great one for adults as well, especially since it's told through an adult perspective, kind of on the other side of adolescence, I think that's a great one.

Whitney Winn:

Jason Reynolds, who is an amazing author, has Look Both Ways, which is a collection of short stories, so that's a good one I think for the younger teen end, especially if maybe they're more reluctant to get into a full novel, they can kind of jump into all these different stories, so it's just about kids in the city, just different experiences through there. And the way he writes young people is just amazing, And it just feels so real.

Emily Calkins:

I feel like we just have to save a spot for him on the list every year.

Whitney Winn:

Every year, or like multiple spots.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, because he writes so much, he puts out like a couple of books a year, and they're always wonderful and kids loves them and adults love them. And they're just really, they're really diverse, but it's that sort of everyday diversity where it's like, that's part of who the characters are, but it's not the sort of main thrust of the character and yeah, he's wonderful.

Whitney Winn:

Definitely. I love his books.

Britta Barrett:

If anyone else is looking for a kind of effortlessly diverse cast of characters, I loved Pumpkinheads so much.

Whitney Winn:

Oh, yes, talk about comfort book.

Britta Barrett:

Just like the most charming and I know though we're moving from fall into winter, but it's just a little pumpkin spice latte of the book so frothy and sweet.

Whitney Winn:

Yeah, perfect way to describe that one and I think would have a lot of fans as well because Rainbow Rowell, the author, writes a lot of other really popular teen books, and then Faith Erin Hicks illustrated it, and she has other really popular novels as well. I really enjoyed that one too. And if someone who's looking for maybe something a little bit more intense there's a great thriller mystery on the list, called Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen McManus. So this is a great one if you like true crime type things, you like murder and trying to figure out who did it, that's a good one.

Whitney Winn:

And then there's this sort of near-future dystopia called Internment by Samira Ahmed, and this is imagining a future which could basically be now, where Muslim Americans are sent to detention camps and about a girl kind of fighting back against that oppression. So that's one of the few sort of even close to being dystopia on this list, which is kind of coming away from past years, I feel like that was a little bit more popular.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, I feel like for a long time we've been in the long shadow of The Hunger Games.

Whitney Winn:

Yes.

Emily Calkins:

Like for the last decade, yeah. And we're kind of finally really [crosstalk 00:58:16]-

Whitney Winn:

Yes, until the new Hunger Games book comes out next year.

Britta Barrett:

So one the cover is just so appealing to me and I think I recognize this author's name from adult books. What is Pet about?

Whitney Winn:

Oh, so Pet I have not read, I do have it checked out, and it is an amazing cover because the title is in sort of like a gold-like gild, gilt - is that the right word? It's beautiful, and it is a…I guess this is also a dystopian, realistic, the reviews I read called it genre-bending, but it's about a girl living in a town where they have eliminated all monsters, but then she encounters a small creature named Pet who comes back and tells her that he has come to fight the monsters and so there's a little bit of mystery about what's really going on in their town and what they're going to do about that.

Whitney Winn:

But here it's really lyrical and literary, because the author comes from a literary adult background, so I believe this is her first young readers, their first young readers book.

Emily Calkins:

Yeah, I think that's right. It was funny reading the reviews for that one, you can see that people are trying to figure out how to distill what it is down into something.

Whitney Winn:

And those things are like I can't say too much about it without spoiling it, so I'm like oooo, okay, sounds really interesting, and it's one on the National Book Award finalist, so it's definitely on that more literary as well. So there's two sort of more straight romance kind of books, so there's Frankly In Love by David Yoon, and that's a debut book, and that's about some very intense high school seniors going through, like “Are we going to get into Harvard? Are we going to get 1600 in our SAT?” but also falling in love and trying to hide a romance. It's pretty intense for a more contemporary realistic romance, but it's a lot of fun, and I think a lot of teenagers would relate to what kids in that book are going through.

Whitney Winn:

And then Tell Me How You Really Feel by Amina Mae Safi is a lesbian romance, and again, it's just kind of a pretty standard contemporary, realistic romance just happens to be with lesbians. And I have not read that book, but I read a short story about her that I just absolutely loved, and I think she captures that like, teen romance very well.

Britta Barrett:

I heard it pitched as if you ever shipped Rory Gilmore and Paris Geller-

Whitney Winn:

Yes, I think I heard that too.

Emily Calkins:

I think that it actually started as Gilmore Girls fan fiction.

Whitney Winn:

Oh, really?

Emily Calkins:

I think it's not just like if you ship them, it's like that really where the nugget of the story came from, so for Gilmore Girls fans [crosstalk 01:00:51]-

Whitney Winn:

[crosstalk 01:00:51] friend means delivers.

Emily Calkins:

Yes, exactly, like a rivalry but there's some like begrudging respect and then I haven't read it either, but it looks very cute.

Britta Barrett:

I also just have a crush on the cover of I Wish You All The Best, like who are these kids, they look adorable?

Whitney Winn:

That's another like contemporary realistic story with LGBTQ content on the main character and this is non-binary. So if you're looking for a story with a non-binary character, I think that'd be great one to start with, and I've heard great things about that as well.

Emily Calkins:

Oh, thank you so much for coming to talk to us today.

Whitney Winn:

Thank you for having me.

Emily Calkins:

All right. So thanks to all those staff members for joining us to talk about their favorite books of the year. And thanks to all of you for listening along with us all year long.

Britta Barrett:

Do you have any final words about the tend to try reading challenge?

Emily Calkins:

Yes, the challenge is over, it is done.

Britta Barrett:

You either did or did not complete it.

Emily Calkins

You have tried and you have succeeded or failed. No, so you have until the end of the year, December 31, to finish the challenge. If you're tracking online, the challenge closes then, if you're tracking on paper and you bring in your bookmark on January 2, when the libraries reopen after New Year’s, we'll still take it.

Emily Calkins:

So you can visit kcls.org/tentotry to get a reminder of the categories or go to kcls.org/bookmatch to get suggestions if there's one or two categories left that you just need a little help with.

Britta Barrett:

And what can they win?

Emily Calkins:

They can win, well everybody who finishes gets a sweet little button so you can show off the fact that you're a tend to try finisher and then we'll do a grand prize drawing in January for three names, and each of those three names will get a basket of books selected for them by me. So I'll email you and say what are you in the mood for? And then I'll put together five books that you get to keep.

Britta Barrett:

That is a great gift.

Emily Calkins:

It sounds fun, right? Fun for me.

Britta Barrett:

I hope you've had a great year reading, discovered some new authors and checked out some books based on our recommendations.

Emily Calkins:

And we hope you'll join us in 2020 for a whole new set of challenge categories.

Britta Barrett:

Stay tuned for what those might be. Till then, happy reading.

Emily Calkins:

Happy reading.